07 May 2010

Long train to Krasnoyarsk

We began our trip to Krasnoyarsk at 8:01pm on Saturday evening on the 1st of May.  We would arrive at 7:50am on the 3rd of May.  Nearly 36 hours (well, really 34, as we would be picking up another couple of time zones on the way).  This would be the longest train trip either of us has ever made, and longer than any other stretch we have planned in the future.

A few things worried us about the trip, using the toilet for a number 2s, the heat of the trans-sib trains so far, who our passengers would be and having enough food to get us through.  The first one proved not to be a problem, as I didn’t have any particularly strong urge to go (I think my body realises what is coming up, and prepares itself accordingly).  Squat toilets I think I’ll be able to cope with when the day comes, but I don’t like the idea of a dingy toilet on a bouncy train.

The people we shared with ended up being quite nice, although there was little or no talking on the first night.  The next day though, one of the ladies introduced herself as the train was pulling into one of the stations where the train waits around for 30 minutes (more on this place later).

After we got back on the train the chat continued with her plus the other passengers in our area, and then a few from the next one (it was an open wagon).  One of them was a Buryat (link) (who the ethnic Russians had nicknamed Jackie Chan in a casually racist manner), a member of the indigenous people of Siberia, who tried to communicate with us and the other passengers.  I think they could understand him, but with his dialect, Audrey couldn’t get what he was saying. 

A five litre bottle of beer was produced by one of our (Russian) neighbours, and we all proceeded to fill our cup with that over the next few hours, plus a smattering of Vodka from time to time, which I’d taken onboard. (I wish I'd got myself into this photo).  Despite being warm-ish, and from a plastic bottle, the beer itself proved to be a passable drink, not quite an Augustiner Helles.  If it had been cold, it would have been considered a passable beer, I'd imagine.

The rules of drinking on the train were not very clear, as the provodnitsa (something like a carriage attendant) did chastise us a little for drinking beer from the 5-litre bottle at one point, and the other guy indicated to me to keep the Vodka hidden.  At time, I assumed it may be because they wanted you to buy it on the train, but she did not seem to have any problems with me buying a half litre bottle of Tuborg on the platform and bringing it on.

Then, about an hour later it became somewhat clearer what the problem might be.  She approached our group, and got one of the ladies, Irene, a middle aged Russian, to read a letter.  According to them, it was a complaint letter against the two Buryat men in the next compartment (they were now sleeping).  She was going to present it to the police at the next station.

The rest of the party had an argument with her about it.  None of us had been offended by them, and while they had gotten drunk quite quickly, they had simply went to sleep.  She said they were also dirty; again we hadn’t noticed, and after 3 days on a train (they’d all come from Moscow), who wouldn’t whiff a little?  She eventually torn up the letter and left us, and the rest of the group put her concerns down to racism.

The train’s heat was a problem on the first night, and we slept with no blankets.  We had asked previously if it was possible to open the windows, and had been told no.  On the second day, I mentioned the heat to one of the guys, and he proceeded to open the window!  Damn it, I wish I’d actually tried the other times.  It did seem a bit of an ordeal to get it open though, so maybe I would have given up thinking they were locked.  Russian engineering. (Other trains we were on were welded shut, so it depends on your luck)

Meanwhile, back on the platform we were greeted with an interesting surprise.  We read from books and travel guides that the platforms were enormously interesting places to stock up on supplies.  So far though, we hadn’t encountered much of this, and thought it may be something that has fallen by the way side over the last decade or so.  Mostly it seemed to be people flogging pot noodles, beer and snacks.  At Barabinsk, it was as we had heard.

Pensioners, male and female, flooded the platform with different wares.  Dried and poached fish, caviar patties, pancakes, potatoes eggs, cloaks and earthenware.  The list goes on.  Mostly home made by the looks of them, people doing what they can to earn a little extra.  I picked up a couple of pancakes and a strange looking thing that I think was some sort of deep fried dough/bread, with potatoes inside, and Audrey grabbed two of the dried fish (he claimed he couldn’t sell her only one...).

It was a great experience, and we got one of our neighbours to help us ensure we didn’t get ripped off.  I think the reason we hadn’t seen this type of thing yet is that all of the other towns we had stopped in had been relatively big places, all circa one million, whereas Barabynsk was only 62,000.  This is probably one of the few ways for the people of the town to make a bit of money, whereas in big cities there are other opportunities.

Back on the train, the woman opposite helped Audrey wrap her fish up in newspaper, harking back to the old days back home where fish and chips used to come in wrapped in stories of days gone past.

Out the window, we passed mostly swampland.  We could go for hours without seeing anything but clumps of trees between large puddle of water and dead grass.  The towns were pretty insignificant, wooden houses grouped together, as if to protect each other from the savagery of the elements.  The only thing of real interest that we saw was a tank graveyard, but we couldn’t get the camera out in time to get a shot.

We arrived in Krasnoyarsk at 07:50


Ada said...

Audrey- what are you going to do with the dried fish?! Think Stephen is far more practical...

King prawn said...

Sounds like it could have been one of the unexpected highlights of the trip! That's crazy about the conductor who was going to complain to the police about the Buryat man, sounds like racism to me. Great post!